Harshit Anand graduated from CNLU Patna and is an associate at Khaitan & Co Kolkata. In this interview, he talks about his law school journey, his experience at Khaitan & Co and the intricacies of working in Corporate Law.
Tell our readers about yourself.
Hi, I am Harshit. I graduated from Chanakya National Law University, Patna in 2018. I have been working with Khaitan & Co, Kolkata for last one year where I primarily deal with corporate and property laws. My favourite cricketer is Steve Smith and I think Amitav Ghosh deserves a booker for his latest book, Gun Island.
I try not to let myself get consumed by the legal profession and its daily struggles and challenges. Unwinding every day with non-law activities helps me approach work with an uncluttered mind.
How was your journey as a law student?
Some of my most rigid and definitive opinions were shaped and cemented in law school. We often talk about the activities we involve ourselves in while in law school and ignore the significant intangibles.
I personally believe five years is a very long time for a person to hone their value judgment and belief system; when you get out of university, you realize the hard work done upon yourself will matter much more than the cosmetics of your CV.
I came across a lot of new ideas while in law school, read a bit, travelled across the country and all of this coupled with the company of some kind peers gave me my fair share of exposure. Half a decade of your life is difficult to capture in a paragraph, but I guess I have already told you my biggest takeaway from law school- new ideas and the will to look out for more.
Tell us about your experience of working at Khaitan & Co.
My stint of one year at Khaitan & Co has been sufficiently fruitful. My learning in commercial laws has been immense. As a part of the real estate team, my work allows me to explore myriad aspects of property laws. When I talk to students about real estate practice, I see a lack of enthusiasm and an overall perception in which this practice area is seen as dull and/or boring.
However, I can tell from experience that property laws give an advocate a lot of scope to manoeuvre. Interpretational issues come up very often and questions from other practice areas such as general corporate, direct/indirect taxation and banking and finance are invariably intertwined in real estate transactions. While in law school, I preferred participating in parliamentary debates over mooting.
I found debates more challenging as you only get 20 minutes to prepare your stance and other 7 to convey the same. With the benefit of hindsight, I think all those debates gave me a taste for a life where pressure would be constant and delivery- in a short time and on an urgent basis- a necessity.
I like waking up to new challenges every day; now that your question has made me think of it, I wouldn’t have my life any other way. Excitement for the uncertain acts like fuel.
How should anyone, who has a goal of working for tier I law firms, go through law school? What are the activities/internships they should prefer?
I personally don’t think the goal should be to work at a tier I law firm. It is easy to dismiss my take on this as a snobbish reflection of somebody who has ‘already made it’, and this would be true partly. As an undergraduate, all I wanted was internships at ‘big’ law firms and a subsequent job offer.
Now that I am on the other side, I see that firms are on the lookout for valuable resources and not good lawyers. A good resource is a genus of which a good advocate is only a species. At the cost of sounding preachy, an undergrad shall essentially try to read up well on fundamental laws and intern at places basis what they have studied well.
Bare acts of the constitution, contract law, property law and corporate laws and related text and case laws should be read thoroughly. Moot court competitions can provide adequate learning in law; writing research papers is another good medium to extensively analyse provisions of law.
Virendra Sehwag once famously said that he plays the ball and not the bowler- it doesn’t matter if it’s a Glenn McGrath bowling or Damien Martyn, if you are good with basics, you will deal with the ball the way it ought to be dealt with.
I am of course trying to draw a smart analogy that if you know the laws well, you wouldn’t cower down under the apparent heaviness of working at ‘tier I’ law firms, as these are commonly referred to. Let me conclude with a trite point: if you are constantly preparing yourself to perform at the big stage, you will eventually end up being there.
What are the questions one should ask themselves before joining a law firm which deals with corporate law?
One should read up on laws and endeavour to keep themselves updated. In the age of the internet, neither the former nor the latter is difficult. However, one should avoid forced compartmentalization; there is nothing called a ‘corporate lawyer’.
Only because you want to sit in a plush air-conditioned office and do transactions does not mean you take your criminal law for granted. Transactions often see an interplay of a diverse set of laws and not being thorough with criminal law because you are a banking and finance guy sounds like a sorry excuse. Speaking from experience, I swear.
What are the main challenges/barriers a fresher faces in tier I firms dealing with corporate law and how can they overcome them?
The challenges mainly pertain to witnessing law in motion for the very first time in your life. As you spend more time, you acclimatize. A good employer/boss will know how to manage the workload of a beginner so that she does not crumble under the burden.
The trick maybe to talk as much as possible with your seasoned colleagues and learn from their experience. Individual brilliance in a firm like setup will not help you if you are relying too much on it; one has to seek adequate assistance and function in the best interest of the team so that you are able to meet deadlines.
A fresh graduate working at a firm has to be taught the perils of working as a lone wolf and once you overcome that constant urge to ‘stand out’, you do well. Not speaking from experience, I swear.
What are your comments on the compensation a fresher draws at a tier I law firm in corporate law as compared to the smaller law firms working in the same area?
More than what she needs and definitely more than what she deserves. But that’s how it is. Firms which make it big, always turn into wealth accumulators with profit maximization as the primary goal. They make more money because they do more execution and transactions are usually leveraged enough to incentivize execution work.
Such firms wouldn’t mind if their associates doing execution work make some extra bucks because what is at stake is much greater in quantum. Let me shoot another trite at you: Whatever compensation you are drawing in your first couple of years at least, is a charity towards you, because you know nothing as far as the law in motion and nuances and intricacies of legal practice is concerned.
You are getting paid to learn. Those who have made it at the big firms are mostly privileged and therefore lucky; their contemporaries in places which don’t pay much shouldn’t get drawn into this conversation. It requires a fair amount of capital to dedicate your first few years to court practice or establish an independent practice but the long-term returns, I hear, are massive.
The profession, sadly, has created an artificial barrier by which it does not treat the beginners well but to get into a discussion about the systemic flaws, we will do another interview someday.
What is your advice to our readers who want to pursue corporate law?
Have already preached a lot I reckon. The basics remain the same- read as much as you can, keep yourself updated, try to write and add to the existing jurisprudence, discuss with people who are in the know of things.
Don’t be hesitant in spelling out your aspirations; if you want to work at a firm, reach out to partners and have frank conversations with them and if you wish to do corporate litigation, toil hard at the courts to get a hang of things.
The profession is not really fair and rewarding and to eke out a corner of your own, you have to be on your toes and catch whatever you can get hold of.
Parting message to our readers.
Don’t worry so much, relax. Things take care of themselves. But don’t be a fatalist either. There are so many things you can do as a student of law, don’t restrict yourself in narrow ambitions which seem all-fulfilling while in college but are mundane and ordinary.
While you have the time, explore, try to learn every day and expand your horizons as much as you can.